Saturday, March 09, 2019

Brexit: Putin's Other Huge Victory

One of Vladimir Putin's long term goals has been to destabilize western democracies.  Toward this goal, Russian agents fanned the flames of the pro-Breit forces in the United Kingdom and at the same time worked to throw the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump.  Putin has triumphed beyond his wildest dreams. Both the UK and the United States have been torn apart socially and politically as both nations have found themselves with two camps: (i) the rural, older, racist, xenophobic, less educated (and I would add, delusional) base that voted for Brexit and voted for Trump, and (ii) the urban, educated, younger, future facing base that voted to remain in the European Union and against Trump. In the UK, the division is becoming more extreme - and perhaps offers a glimpse of where the USA is headed - and is being likened by some to a civil war.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the simmering animosity splitting the British public.  Here are article excerpts:
Like the election of President Trump, the 2016 Brexit referendum vote crystallized divisions between cities and towns, young and old, the beneficiaries of globalization and those left behind.
And far from fading, the Brexit divide seems to have become entrenched within many British workplaces, families and social circles.
Friendships lost or relationships broken by Brexit have been bemoaned by politicians, featured in newspaper advice columns and spawned novels and at least one play.
According to one survey, more than a third of those who wish to remain in the European Union would be upset if a close relative married a strong leave supporter, suggesting that Brexit has morphed into a clash of values.
In the aftermath of the referendum, Relate, a counseling service, said that a fifth of the 300 relationship support practitioners surveyed had worked with clients who argued over Brexit. And analysts say Britons are increasingly likely to define themselves in relation to Brexit, rather than allegiance to a party, a dividing line noticed by psychotherapists too. “It’s a bit like 16th-century France between the Catholics and the Protestants,” said Brett Kahr, senior clinical research fellow in psychotherapy and mental health at the Center for Child Mental Health, adding: “I think there is a great deal of hatred of one position toward the other, and a lack of willingness to engage.
Some experts worry that, rather than open feuding, a chilly silence has descended across parts of a population that is often adept at avoiding confrontations.
“Brexit is ever-present in the consulting room,” said Sarah Niblock, chief executive of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. “It is now so excruciating, and so difficult for people to have conversations about Brexit — families, workplaces neighbors are so split — there is so much of a division between groups in society that it is almost as if the therapeutic room has become the last place people can talk with any ease.”
Those trying to make sense of it all include Candida Yates, professor of culture and communication at Bournemouth University, who is researching Brexit sentiment. . . . . For the remainers it was rather like a bereavement group. “There was this huge sense of loss. People talked about waking up on the day of the vote crying and in shock and they didn’t fully understand it themselves. They understood that they were upset but why did they feel so strongly? So it was a bit like a therapy group.”
For leavers there was more a sense of grievance than grief, Ms. Yates said, and a feeling “that they had been left behind, they had been forgotten, it was really this town-city divide.” Winning the referendum was an unexpected victory — some described it as a gift — but a precarious one.
“They couldn’t quite believe their luck and also said — even back then in 2016 — ‘It will be taken away,’ ” Ms. Yates said. “They were saying, ‘They won’t let us have it.’
There was a real feeling of ‘them and us’ and a feeling of powerlessness. They had managed to get this, but how long they could hang on to it, they didn’t know,” she added.
“People talked about it being like a civil war,” she said. Indeed, some mentioned Britain’s Civil War, which took place in the 17th century, or even episodes further back in history.  “They talked about the Civil War, they talked about the Norman yoke, people have gone back and back. It’s as if these earlier schisms had been reawoken.”
Frankly, I understand the feelings of the remainers.  I find it very difficult to understand or even remain close to those who voted for Trump.  Their vote, to me, demonstrated that I had misread who I thought these people were. They were not the intelligent, decent people that I thought they were.  Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is smiling.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, March 08, 2019

More Friday Male Beauty

Fox News’s Destructive Role in America

Throughout its history, the United States has never had an official state TV such as one saw in Soviet Russia - and still see today under Putin - that's sole agenda is to support the regime and spread propaganda no matter how untrue or far fetched.  At least, not until now.  As a very long piece in The New Yorker lays out, Fox News has become a de facto arm of the Trump?pence regime and its tactics and "news" coverage looks like something out of Nazi Germany's Reich Ministry of Propaganda. Hannity and others at Fox News have become the equivalent of Joseph Goebbels.  The damage being done to the fear and anger based lies spewed daily on Fox are simply without precedent, as are its ties to the Trump/Pence regime.  From birtherism to fanning an untrue picture of immigration, Fox News seemingly has one goal (besides raking in money) which is to prop up the Trump/Pence regime.  The piece is a long read, but should be read to understand the dangerous influence Fox has become.  Here are article highlights:

In January, during the longest government shutdown in America’s history, President Donald Trump rode in a motorcade through Hidalgo County, Texas, eventually stopping on a grassy bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. The White House wanted to dramatize what Trump was portraying as a national emergency: the need to build a wall along the Mexican border. The presence of armored vehicles, bales of confiscated marijuana, and federal agents in flak jackets underscored the message.
But the photo op dramatized something else about the Administration. After members of the press pool got out of vans and headed over to where the President was about to speak, they noticed that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, was already on location. Unlike them, he hadn’t been confined by the Secret Service, and was mingling with Administration officials, at one point hugging Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The pool report noted that Hannity was seen “huddling” with the White House communications director, Bill Shine. After the photo op, Hannity had an exclusive on-air interview with Trump. Politico later reported that it was Hannity’s seventh interview with the President, and Fox’s forty-second. Since then, Trump has given Fox two more. He has granted only ten to the three other main television networks combined, and none to CNN, which he denounces as “fake news.”
Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”
Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support.
For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. [M]any people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years, including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012 and is a prominent Never Trumper, said of the network, “It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.” Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says of Fox. “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.” Nothing has formalized the partnership between Fox and Trump more than the appointment, in July, 2018, of Bill Shine, the former co-president of Fox News, as director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House. . . .  Kristol contends that Shine’s White House appointment is a scandal. “It’s been wildly under-covered,” he said. . . . . “It’s astounding that Shine—the guy who covered up Ailes’s horrible behavior—is the deputy chief of staff!” The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, another conservative Never Trumper, used to appear on the network, but wouldn’t do so now. “Fox was begun as a good-faith effort to counter bias, but it’s morphed into something that is not even news,” she says. “It’s simply a mouthpiece for the President, repeating what the President says, no matter how false or contradictory.” . . . . Rubin told me, “It’s funny that Bill Shine went over to the White House. He could have stayed in his old job. The only difference is payroll.” Shine is only the most recent Fox News alumnus to join the Trump Administration. Among others, Trump appointed the former Fox contributor Ben Carson to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the former Fox commentator John Bolton to be his national-security adviser, and the former Fox commentator K. T. McFarland to be his deputy national-security adviser. (McFarland resigned after four months.) Trump recently picked the former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert to be the Ambassador to the United Nations, but she soon withdrew herself from consideration, reportedly because her nanny, an immigrant, lacked a work permit. A Republican political expert who has a paid contract with Fox News told me that Hannity has essentially become a “West Wing adviser,” attributing this development, in part, to the “utter breakdown of any normal decision-making in the White House.” The expert added, “The place has gone off the rails. There is no ordinary policy-development system.” As a result, he said, Fox’s on-air personalities “are filling the vacuum.”
Axios recently reported that sixty per cent of Trump’s day is spent in unstructured “executive time,” much of it filled by television. Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Washington, whose former firm, Black, Manafort & Stone, advised Trump in the eighties and nineties, told me, “Trump gets up and watches ‘Fox & Friends’ and thinks these are his friends.
It is hardly unprecedented for American media barons to go beyond their pages to try to influence the course of politics. . . . . But now a direct pipeline has been established between the Oval Office and the office of Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born billionaire who founded News Corp and 21st Century Fox. Multiple sources told me that Murdoch and Trump often talk on the phone. Murdoch could not have foreseen that Trump would become President, but he was a visionary about the niche audience that became Trump’s base. In 1994, Murdoch laid out an audacious plan to Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission . . . . his creation would follow the unapologetically lowbrow model of the tabloids that he published in Australia and England, and appeal to a narrow audience that would be entirely his. His core viewers, he said, would be football fans; with this aim in mind, he had just bought the rights to broadcast N.F.L. games. . . . . “The genius was seeing that there’s an attraction to fear-based, anger-based politics that has to do with class and race.” Trump’s arrival marked an important shift in tone at Fox. Until then, the network had largely mocked birtherism as a conspiracy theory. O’Reilly called its promoters “unhinged,” and Glenn Beck, who at the time also hosted a Fox show, called them “idiots.” But Trump gave birtherism national exposure, and, in a sign of things to come, Hannity fanned the flames. Hannity began saying that, although he thought that Obama had been born in the United States, the circumstances surrounding his birth certificate were “odd.” In November, Hannity joined Trump onstage at a climactic rally for the midterm elections. Afterward, Fox issued a limp statement saying that it didn’t “condone any talent participating in campaign events” and that the “unfortunate distraction” had “been addressed.” Many Fox News reporters were angry, and provided critical anonymous quotes to the media, but Hannity didn’t apologize, saying that he had been “surprised yet honored” when Trump called him up onstage. This response was dubious: before the rally, Trump’s campaign had advertised Hannity as a “special guest.” Murdoch’s views could scarcely be more at odds with Fox’s current diatribes about hordes of “illegal aliens” who are “invading” the U.S. and killing innocent Americans, leaving behind grieving “Angel Moms” and “Angel Dads.” Van Susteren told me that she wasn’t surprised by this rhetorical turn. “Don’t kid yourself about his support for immigration,” she said of Murdoch. “Rupert is first about the bottom line. . . . . Fox’s mile-by-mile coverage of the so-called “migrant caravan” was an enormous hit: ratings in October, 2018, exceeded those of October, 2016—the height of the Presidential campaign. With Trump’s election, the network’s hosts went from questioning power to defending it. Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who co-directs the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, says, “Fox’s most important role since the election has been to keep Trump supporters in line.” The network has provided a non-stop counternarrative in which the only collusion is between Hillary Clinton and Russia; Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is perpetrating a “coup” by the “deep state”; Trump and his associates aren’t corrupt, but America’s law-enforcement officials and courts are; illegal immigration isn’t at a fifteen-year low, it’s “an invasion”; and news organizations that offer different perspectives are “enemies of the American people.” Most American news outlets try to adhere to facts. When something proves erroneous, they run corrections, or, as Benkler and his co-authors write, “they check each other.” Far-left Web sites post as many bogus stories as far-right ones do, but mainstream and liberal news organizations tend to ignore suspiciously extreme material. Conservative media outlets, however, focus more intently on confirming their audience’s biases, and are much more susceptible to disinformation, propaganda, and outright falsehoods (as judged by neutral fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact). Hannity has been allowed to spew baseless conspiracy theories with impunity. For more than a year, Hannity and other hosts spread the lie that the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails during the 2016 campaign was an inside job. Hannity claimed that the hacking had been committed not by Russian cyber-warfare agents, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded, but by a Democratic staffer named Seth Rich, who had been murdered by unknown assailants on a D.C. street. . . . . In 2017, after Rich’s parents demanded an apology and advertisers began shunning the network, Fox finally ran a retraction, and Hannity dropped the story.
Given Fox’s status as a dominant source of information for Trump, some people argue that the network should be especially vigilant about outside influence. Aki Peritz, a former C.I.A. analyst who is an adjunct professor at American University, has written that Fox News has become an inviting target for foreign spy agencies, because “it’s what the President sees.” But a source who spoke to me about Guilfoyle and Townsend says, “It’s even worse than a conspiracy of the dark Web, or something trying to manipulate Fox. It was just a guy in his underwear in Georgia who had influence over Fox News! And Fox News influences the President!” 
Gertz, of Media Matters, argues, “The President’s world view is being specifically shaped by what he sees on Fox News, but Fox’s goals are ratings and money, which they get by maximizing rage. It’s not a message that is going to serve the rest of the country.” Blair Levin, the former F.C.C. official, says that Trump and Fox are employing the same risky model: inflaming the base and intensifying its support, rather than building a broader coalition. Narrowcasting may generate billions of dollars for a cable channel, but as a governing strategy it inevitably alienates the majority. The problem for Trump, as one former Fox host puts it, is that “he can’t afford to lose Fox, because it’s all he’s got.”
Similarly, Fox has a financial incentive to make Trump look good. . . . Since the midterms, in which the Republicans lost the House, the Nielsen ratings for Fox’s evening lineup—Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham—have fallen by twenty per cent.
Jerry Taylor, the co-founder of the Niskanen Center, a think tank in Washington for moderates, says, “In a hypothetical world without Fox News, if President Trump were to be hit hard by the Mueller report, it would be the end of him. But, with Fox News covering his back with the Republican base, he has a fighting chance, because he has something no other President in American history has ever had at his disposal—a servile propaganda operation.”

Be very afraid.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Will Housing and Deficits Be Trump's Downfall?

With political focus turning to the 2020 presidential election, three particular elements may make  Der Trumpenf├╝hrer's re-election hopes much more shaky (yea!): The slowing housing market thanks to a combination of rising interest rates, the ballooning trade deficit and impact of Trump's tariffs, and the ballooning federal deficit  which itself will drive up interest rates. Should the housing market continue to slow, it could well drag the economy into recession just as attention on the 2020 election intensifies next year.  A piece in Politico looks at housing's threat to Trump's future - assuming he finishes his term and runs for re-election. Here are highlights:

The luxury real estate market in Manhattan is sagging. The GOP tax law is hitting real estate markets across the nation.
And signs of stress across the broader housing market suggest the industry — which made Donald Trump rich, helped thrust him into the White House and remains a constant obsession for him — could also be one that slows his economy and dents his chances at a second term.
The housing market may not cause the next recession like it did in 2008. But weakness in the construction of new homes, sales of existing homes and affordability for millennials looking to buy for the first time could contribute to a recession arriving as soon as next year or prolong any downturn. In addition to 2008, declines in the housing market were tied to recessions in 1974, 1980 and 1990-91, raising concerns that history is about to repeat.
One area where housing-market stress is obvious is the one Trump knows best: High-end apartments in Manhattan, where prices are now dropping as foreign buyers disappear and wealthy residents flee to lower-tax states.
“When you look at the New York metro area, we are moving from an extended period of stagnation to one of outright softening,” said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, U.S.
The Manhattan declines are directly linked to the late-2017 tax law that capped the mortgage interest deduction and indirectly to the capping of the state and local tax deduction, Brusuelas said. “People joke that they should have called the tax bill the ‘Everybody Moves to Austin Act.’ This wasn’t virtuous tax policy. It was punitive tax policy.”
Trump’s New York home is not the only blue state where the housing market has taken a hit following the tax law changes. Markets are also suffering across the Northeast, where sales of new homes dropped 16.1 percent in December, according to brokerage firm Redfin.
The cap on the state and local tax deduction is already showing in migration rates, according to Laurie Goodman, vice president of housing finance policy at the Urban Institute. . . . New York, California, Illinois and New Jersey topping the states with the largest flows of people leaving between July 2017 and July 2018. The largest in-migration states over that period — Florida, Arizona, Texas and North Carolina — have lower taxes.
A recent decline in mortgage rates following the Federal Reserve’s decision to pause its campaign of interest-rate hikes has improved the demand for new and existing homes somewhat in the last couple of months. But overall, the numbers suggest a broad softening in the housing market. Homebuilding investment shrank 0.2 percent last year, the worst performance since 2010. . . . . the industry’s doldrums could make an already slowing 2019 even slower and make the next recession even worse when it arrives.
“Once the economy moves into recession, so maybe mid-2020, the significant decline in residential investment will exacerbate affordability problems,” said Brusuelas. “The home affordability index and first time buyer affordability index are both showing significant signs of stress.”
Taken together, the declines in high-end markets and across states hit by the tax law changes — coupled with affordability problems for new buyers and reduced construction of new homes — suggest that the market could contribute to the next recession and make life difficult for Trump.
“I see recession hitting before the 2020 election,” said McCabe. “And it’s going to play a part in that election.
The other area that may threaten Trump is the failure of his tariffs and the further ballooning of the federal deficit thanks to the disastrous Trump/GOP 2017 tax cuts notwithstanding the GOP's disingenuous lies that "entitlements" are to blame.  A column in the New York Times looks at this other thorn in Trump's side.  Here are excerpts:
[O]ver two years of unified G.O.P. control of government, a funny thing happened: Both deficits surged. The budget deficit has hit a level unprecedented except during wars and in the immediate aftermath of major economic crises; the trade deficit in goods has set a record.
What’s the significance of this tide of red ink? . . . . Trump’s twin deficits tell us a lot about both the tweeter in chief and his party — namely, that they’re both dishonest and ignorant.
About the dishonesty: Is there anyone left who believes that Republicans ever really cared about debt and deficits? The truth is that the phoniness of their fiscal posturing should have been obvious all along. . . . . The moment they had a chance, the very politicians who grandstanded about the need for fiscal responsibility rammed through a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy — a tax cut that is the main reason for the exploding budget deficit.  Oh, and the tax cut has utterly failed to deliver the promised investment boom.
What about the ignorance? As many people have pointed out to no avail, Trump is all wrong about what trade deficits do. . . . . Trump is completely wrong about what causes trade deficits in the first place. In fact, his own policies have provided an object lesson in the falsity of his vision.
In the Trumpian universe, trade deficits happen because we made bad deals — we let foreigners sell their stuff here, but they won’t let us sell our stuff there. So the solution is to throw up barriers to foreign products. “I am a Tariff Man,” he proudly proclaimed.
The reason America runs persistent trade deficits isn’t that we’ve given away too much in trade deals, it’s that we have low savings compared with other countries.
Tariffs can, of course, reduce imports of the goods subject to the tariff, and hence reduce the trade deficit in that particular industry. But it’s like pushing on a balloon: You can squeeze it in one place, but it will just inflate by the same amount somewhere else. The process through which this conservation of deficits takes place can vary, although a stronger dollar, which hurts exports, is usually one major channel. But the basic result, that tariffs don’t actually reduce the overall trade deficit, is clear.
Sure enough, the Trump tariffs of 2018 did, in fact, lead to a sharp fall in imports of the goods subjected to tariffs. But imports of other goods rose, while exports performed poorly. And the overall trade deficit went up substantially, which is exactly what you should have expected. After all, that big tax cut for the wealthy reduced national savings.
And the supposed cause of the deficit isn’t the only thing Trump gets wrong about trade policy. He also keeps insisting that foreigners are paying his tariffs. In reality, prices received by foreign exporters haven’t gone down. Prices paid by U.S. consumers have gone up, instead.

A slowing housing market, a ballooning federal deficit that increases interest rates, and rising costs and decimated market sectors - think GM's closures - due to the Trump tariffs. The perverse side of me hopes things worsen if it will help ride the nation of Trump/Pence.

More Thursday Male Beauty

Virginia AG Mark Herring's Self-Inflicted Wounds

Yours truly and Herring in happier days
at a fundraiser in our home.
Last month's "black face" circus here in Virginia gave Virginians a good look at which of their elected officials made hasty - and in my view unwarranted - decisions and rushed to judgment as well as which ones had major problems with being hypocrites. Leading the pack in hypocrisy and poor judgment was Attorney General Mark Herring (although Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Congressman Bobby Scott were right along side Herring in poor judgment).  Herring quickly called for Governor Northam's resignation over a photo that turned out not to be of Northam even as he knew himself that there were photos of himself in black face floating around - something many think caused Herring to eventually confess of his own perceived black face indiscretion. 

Now, with Northam still in office with the support of 58% of black Virginians (as opposed to black elected officials and anti-white black activists) and a plurality of white Virginians, Herring finds himself in a huge mess. Seeking to run for governor in 2021, Herring has managed to piss off a significant portions of the base he will need to run for governor.  In addition, he and his chicken little fellow Democrats have divided the Democrat Party of Virginia as the party moves towards the critical 2019 General Assembly elections. An article in the Virginian Pilot describes Herring failing attempt to justify his calls for Northam's resignation.  Whether Herring can regain those support of those he has alienated, including my husband and myself, remains to be seen.  He has certainly opened the door for some other candidate to challenge him for the 2021 gubernatorial nomination.  Here are excerpts from the Pilot article and  Herrings, in my view, disingenuous explanation: 
Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday said he demanded Gov. Ralph's Northam's resignation last month not because the governor had worn blackface decades earlier, but because Northam flip-flopped on the subject in a way that undermined his ability to lead.
Breaking a month of silence since acknowledging that he, too, had dressed in blackface as a young man, Herring took pains to differentiate his situation from Northam's. Both Herring and Northam are Democrats.
The attorney general said that after Northam's revelations, he "agonized" about whether to disclose that he dressed in blackface for a party as a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia. He said ultimately decided to do so on his own, dismissing the idea that his hand was forced by questions from the media.
"Sure, we had gotten some press inquires, but this was something I needed to bring forward," he said.
Herring, who announced in December his intention to run for governor in 2021, declined to say whether he will still run. "That's the last thing I'm thinking about right now," Herring said. "What I am focused on is what has happened in Virginia over the last month and what I can do to repair the damage."
Herring's critics have called him a hypocrite for calling on Northam to step down despite his own blackface episode. Several times during the 36-minute interview on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show, Herring contended that in his view, Northam needed to leave office not because of the blackface, but because of his shifting account of it.
While many state and national Democrats immediately called on Northam to resign, Herring stopped just short of that in a statement issued late on the night of Feb. 1.
But the next day, after Northam's turnabout during his news conference, Herring called on Northam to step down and expressed his support for the man who would succeed him, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat.
"It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down," Herring's statement said. "I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth."
Days later, Fairfax was swept up in a scandal of his own, as two women accused him of sexually assault dating from 2000 and 2004 - charges that Fairfax has vigorously denied.
Around 11 a.,m. on Feb. 6, Herring met with members of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus to admit that he darkened his skin to dress as rapper Kurtis Blow for a college party.
Hours earlier, an Associated Press reporter informed Herring spokesman Michael Kelly that someone had given him a detailed description of a photo of Herring in blackface, pressing Kelly for a response.
A little after 11:30 a.m., after Black Caucus members left their briefing from Herring, Kelly issued Herring's statement about his use of blackface.
The accusations against Fairfax are "different but a very difficult situation," Herring said. The women who say they were sexually assaulted by the lieutenant governor "deserve to be heard, they deserve respect," he said.
"What needs to happen is some type of impartial situation so we can get to the facts," he said. "In the current situation, it's hard to see how that takes place. It's an excruciating situation to be in."
Herring and other Democrats should have kept their mouths shut and calmly and careful waited for all of the facts and information to come out and tested the mood of their constituents (what a novel concept) instead of acting like a bunch of lemmings played by far right GOP operatives.  Personally, I believe ALL of them need to cooperate in a reconciliation effort, but given the egos of some involved, seeing them admit they acted hastily and foolishly may be too much to hope for.  Meanwhile, my own representatives in the General Assembly - both of whom are members of the Legislative Black Caucus - have permanently lost my vote. Historically, they have shown no interest in my concerns or views and I only hear from them in the run up to elections when they ask for money.  At the national level, I also know that would be presidential candidates Castro, Warren and Harris will never win my support based on their hasty and ill-considered insertion of themselves into Virginia issues (this is Warren's second time doing this to the harm of the party).

The husband and I will be seeing Mark Warner on Sunday - I suspect it will be an interesting conversation and one that Warner will not like. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Senate Republicans Confirmed an Unqualified Gay Hater to the 4th Circuit

Allison Rushing - the face of hate and extremism and utterly unqualified for the federal bench.

While far too many Democrats - including Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine - are running around damaging the Democrat Party by embracing an idiotic "no forgiveness ever" political policy, Senate Republicans are stacking the federal judiciary with Christian extremists and alt-right extremists, a majority of whom have been rated as "unqualified"by the American Bar Association.  Rushing has tried four 9$0 cases in her legal career, none as lead counsel. 

A case in point is the confirmation of 37-years old Allison Jones Rushing who, though totally unqualified, has been appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals based in Richmond.  Rushing has been in legal practice only nine years and is now on a court one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.  Equally disturbing is Rushing background.  Besides clerking for Justice Clarence Thomas - in my view the absolute the mental midget of the Supreme Court - Rushing has a history with the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom ("ADF") which believes only far right Christians are entitled to freedom of religion and which has worked diligently to criminalize gays or, as a fall back make them subservient to the special rights of Christofascists.  Even I, a commercial transaction and real estate attorney with over 40 years of experience with both large and smaller firms, have tried more cases than Ms. Rushing both as lead counsel and as assistant counsel in appellate court cases, yet I would never pretend to have the trial experience necessary to sit on the 4th Circuit. 

The New Civil Rights Movement looks at this shocking confirmation which over time will cause harm to countless Virginians.  Here are excerpts:
At 37-years old Allison Jones Rushing was just confirmed to become the youngest judge on the federal bench. A lifetime appointment, she will sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and based on her age she will be a federal judge for decades, as HuffPost just reported.
Rushing clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and interned for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is listed as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In case there's any question if her personal beliefs align with the ADF's, she has said she believes there are "moral and practical" reasons for not just opposing marriage equality, but for banning the marriages of same-sex couples.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday pushed through her confirmation, voting 53-44. Every Republican voted for her. Every Democrat voted against her, as Huffpost's Jennifer Bendery noted.
“She has practiced law for nine years. How many cases has she tried to verdict or judgment? Four. Has she been the lead attorney on any of those cases? No,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who serves as the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution. “That is the most scant, weakest legal resume imaginable for someone who’s seeking a lifetime appointment to the second-highest court of the land.”
Senator Durbin made his criticisms known on Monday when the Senate advanced her nomination: Republicans just advanced the judicial nomination of 36 year-old Allison Jones Rushing for the 4th Circuit (NC). She has practiced law for just 9 years, only tried 4 cases to verdict or judgment in her career (none as lead counsel), and isn’t even a member of the NC bar.
"Trump is appointing and Senate Republicans are confirming young, conservative, anti-black, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ judicial nominees, like 37-year-old Allison Jones Rushing, who could remain on the federal bench and block new progressive laws for decades," CNN's Keith Boykin noted on Twitter.
The National Center for Transgender Equality's Gillian Branstetter wrote last year that "Rushing has built her short career on promoting homophobic and transphobic prejudice, siding with dogmatic ideologues over the rights of everyday citizens."
The Alliance Defending Freedom, Branstetter adds, "lead the fight to criminalize LGBTQ people’s existence in countries around the world. including efforts to forcibly sterilize transgender people. They defend the damaging and debunked practice of so-called conversion therapy, which is now banned in 15 states including the District of Columbia," and "stand by the horrific claim that being transgender is 'most often' a result of child abuse."
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit oversees North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Trump/Pence regime continues to follow the template laid down by Hitler" constantly attack the free press and stack the courts with supportive extremists who lack credentials and legitimate experience.  Meanwhile, my Republican "friends" stick their heads in the sand and ignore the evil they are complicit in allowing.

Nazi judges.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Norfolk Judges By Default Support Disproportionate Prosecution of Blacks

Lobby of Norfolk Court House.
For many years Virginia's arcane marijuana laws have been used - by design, in my view to subjugate and disenfranchise blacks - to disproportionately criminalize black citizens.  This is an issue I have written about in the past and I have previously noted that City of Norfolk has been a prime offender in Virginia when it comes to disproportionately targeting blacks.  Indeed, the most recent statistics are most damning: 81 percent marijuana arrests were black in a city with a population that is 47 percent white and 42 percent black. The continuation of this injustice was recently re-enforced by the Republican controlled Virginia General Assembly which killed legislation that would have overhauled Virginia's horrible marijuana laws and decriminalized simple possession offences.  To address this unconscionable situation, Norfolk's Commonwealth Attorney, Greg Underwood, has indicated that he will not prosecute (would that he could convince the Norfolk Police Department from targeting blacks).  Unfortunately Underwood has hit a brick fall in the form of Norfolk's judges who have stated that they will continue to try marijuana summons even if the Commonwealth Attorney refuses to prosecute them.  Underwood's hopefully work around?  He has petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court - which has a terrible track record of being on the wrong side of history and supporting racial discrimination - asking that it affirm his prosecutorial discretion. A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at the stand off.  The judges' action is unfortunate.  The continued targeting of blacks by the Norfolk Police Department is down right reprehensible. Here are excerpts:

The city’s chief prosecutor said he will ask the state Supreme Court to force local judges into dismissing misdemeanor marijuana cases, effectively de-criminalizing the drug in Norfolk.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood on Friday sent a letter to the chief judge of the city’s highest court, letting him and the seven other Circuit Court judges know that Underwood would appeal their collective decision to deny motions prosecutors have made over the past two months to abandon those cases.
Two months ago, Underwood announced he would undertake several efforts to achieve what he called criminal justice reform, including no longer prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana appeals.
But since then, at least four judges have denied prosecutors’ requests to dismiss marijuana charges. The tug-of-war adds to the confusion about whether it’s OK to have a small amount of weed in the city. Norfolk police have said they will continue to cite people for misdemeanor marijuana possession as they’ve always done. Circuit Court judges appear determined to make sure offenders are tried, even if the commonwealth’s attorney refuses to prosecute them.
Prosecuting people for having marijuana disproportionately hurts black people and does little to protect public safety, Underwood has said.
In 2016 and 2017, more than 1,560 people in Norfolk were charged with first- or second-offense marijuana possession, prosecutor Ramin Fatehi said during a hearing last month. Of them, 81 percent were black in a city that’s 47 percent white and 42 percent black.
This “breeds a reluctance on the part of African Americans, particular young African American men, to trust or cooperate with the justice system,” according to a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office memo announcing the policy changes
“Such prosecution also encourages the perception that the justice system is not focusing its attention on the legitimately dangerous crimes that regrettably are concentrated in these same communities.”
The judge, Hall, admitted Fatehi made an “extremely compelling case” with his statistics on racial disparities, but said he should pitch it to lawmakers in Richmond.
“I believe this is an attempt to usurp the power of the state legislature,” Hall said. “This is a decision that must be made by the General Assembly, not by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.”
But circumventing the commonwealth’s attorney’s role in the long term would keep marijuana possession cases alive in Norfolk, thwarting Underwood’s criminal justice reform.

More Tuesday Male Beauty

HIV Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient

One of the things one encounters as a gay male is the effort of the far right and Christian extremists to depict all gays as diseased and a health care threat.  While HIV/AIDS is no longer the virtual death sentence it was three decades ago, treatment remains expensive.  Likewise, thanks to the greed of American pharmaceutical companies, preventive medications such as PrEP outrageously expensive in the USA - in contrast to Europe and Canada - and out of the financial reach of the majority of those in need of it.  The result is that a permanent cure remains the hope of many, including in the black community where heterosexuals are increasingly at risk of the disease in part due to the lack of access to preventive health care and the continued homophobia of black churches (much of the support for the anti-gay vote in the United Methodist Church came from African delegations).  Now, the New York Times is reporting on a second time where HIV seemingly has been cured. While the treatment regime is not of a nature making it easily replicated on a wide scale basis, it may give rise to future treatments.   Here are article highlights: 

For just the second time since the global epidemic began, a patient appears to have been cured of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
The news comes nearly 12 years to the day after the first patient known to be cured, a feat that researchers have long tried, and failed, to duplicate. The surprise success now confirms that a cure for H.I.V. infection is possible, if difficult, researchers said.
Publicly, the scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission. In interviews, most experts are calling it a cure, with the caveat that it is hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.
Both milestones resulted from bone-marrow transplants given to infected patients. But the transplants were intended to treat cancer in the patients, not H.I.V.
Bone-marrow transplantation is unlikely to be a realistic treatment option in the near future. Powerful drugs are now available to control H.I.V. infection, while the transplants are risky, with harsh side effects that can last for years.
But rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist H.I.V. might well succeed as a practical treatment, experts said.
“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” said Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands. “It’s reachable.”
The new patient has chosen to remain anonymous, and the scientists referred to him only as the “London patient.”  “I feel a sense of responsibility to help the doctors understand how it happened so they can develop the science,” he told The New York Times in an email. Learning that he could be cured of both cancer and H.I.V. infection was “surreal” and “overwhelming,” he added. “I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime.”
The London patient has answered that question: A near-death experience is not required for the procedure to work. He had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with the CCR5 mutation in May 2016. He, too, received immunosuppressive drugs, but the treatment was much less intense, in line with current standards for transplant patients.
He quit taking anti-H.I.V. drugs in September 2017, making him the first patient since Mr. Brown known to remain virus-free for more than a year after stopping.
Although the London patient was not as ill as Mr. Brown had been after the transplant, the procedure worked about as well: The transplant destroyed the cancer without harmful side effects. The transplanted immune cells, now resistant to H.I.V., seem to have fully replaced his vulnerable cells.
Most people with the H.I.V.-resistant mutation, called delta 32, are of Northern European descent. IciStem maintains a database of about 22,000 such donors.
Several companies are pursuing gene therapies but have not yet been successful. The modification must target the right number of cells, in the right place — only the bone marrow, for example, and not the brain — and tweak only the genes directing production of CCR5. Several teams are working on all of these obstacles, Dr. McCune said. Eventually, they may be able to develop a viral delivery system that, when injected into the body, seeks out all CCR5 receptors and deletes them, or even a donor stem cell that is resistant to H.I.V. but could be given to any patient. Mr. Brown says he is hopeful that the London patient’s cure proves as durable as his own. “If something has happened once in medical science, it can happen again,” Mr. Brown said. “I’ve been waiting for company for a long time.”

If one looks to Africa, HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease.  It impacts millions of heterosexuals contrary to the propaganda of the far right and Christofascist.  Let's hope for a successful cure available for widespread use in the near term. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, March 04, 2019

In Memoriam: Why Gay Bars Are Still So Important

Tommy Pruitt  - the late owner of The Wave.
This evening I attended the visitation for a friend who sadly passed away last week.  While straight and married with children, for years he owned and operated clubs/bars that catered largely to the area LGBT community and provided a safe place for those either not welcomed in other establishments or otherwise unable to be themselves.  In later years, he retained one club, The Wave, that was truly a family operation that employed his children, sister and niece.   It became a lifeline for me, especially in the early years of my coming out journey when I knew few in the LGBT community and was struggling desperately to find self acceptance.  Making matters worse, when I first came out of the closet roughly 17 years ago, being gay in Virginia (and a dozen other states) still carried the potential of a criminal conviction.  Under Virginia's draconian sodomy statute - which Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly still consistently refused to formally repeal -  same sex relations carried a potential felony conviction.  In that climate, one truly needed a safe place to make and meet friends and to gain confidence in being their true selves. The Wave and other gay bars in the area became my safe havens.

While Virginia's statute was struck down in 2003 by the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, as last week's anti-gay vote of the United Methodist Church General Conference demonstrates,  anti-LGBT animus still runs deep in many segments of society and not only are gays subject to being fired in 29 states, unwelcome in numerous churches, but LGBT youth continue to be disowned by their "devout Christian" parents.  A piece I came across lays out why LGBT bars are important and why their decline in numbers is disturbing:
Not only do bars honor gay history, but they are venues for a person to learn about the gay experience, their bodies, their sexuality, and so much more. As Thomas shared, “for people who don’t have a supportive family or supportive friends or a school system or accounts that don’t necessarily understand what they’re going through, bars and clubs are essential to helping people move to the next step in their process.”
This is because gay bars are the one place where LGBT persons are sure to find other people like them in a non-judgemental arena. Gay bars are historically the original safe space — a place where people could gather without threat — and that is still true today, no matter how large and supplanting technology seems to be.
“You lose the ability to feel like you belong in a space. You lose the ability for community. You lose the ability to congregate with other people who are going through the same struggles as you are.”

Speaking with my late friend's children and sister this evening, several things struck me.  One was how Tommy was ahead of his time.  In fact, his son related to me how his dad taught him to ignore those in the straight community who looked down on their family because they ran LGBT friendly businesses. He said his dad taught him the importance of being accepting and supportive of others and the need to be on the right side of history.  His sister, who talked me through a number of very dark times and resembled the always caring Debbie character on Queer As Folk, repeated the same message and was just as loving as always.  Many millennials may not feel the same need as the older generations to have such safe places, but many still do need these safe havens where one is accepted and not judged for being LGBT.  Fortunately, The Wave will continue to operate.   RIP Tommy Pruitt.  My thoughts and affection - and sincere thanks - go out to the entire Pruitt family.

More Monday Male Beauty

Cyber Warfare: The Battle for American Minds

One need only look at the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom or the outcome of the 2016 presidential election to see the growing risks of foreign cyber warfare inducing societies to be deceived into taking self-destructive actions. American intelligence agencies expect things to get even worse in the future as Russia and other opponents intensify their efforts.  Who is the most vulnerable to fake news and deception on social media?  Older voters who ought to know better but who are duped into promoting falsehoods at far higher rates than Millennials. The answer as to why such is the case is still elusive although it may in part be due to Millennials' greater experience with social media and the Internet age.  It may also be that they do not carry with them the accumulated prejudices that seemingly plague older voters, especially so-called "conservatives" who are predisposed to believe outlandish propaganda.  Personally, I have seen Republican "friends" share shockingly untrue information without ever questioning the source or the information since it fits with their prejudices. A piece in The Atlantic looks at the situation.  Here are highlights:  
Congress’s annual worldwide-threat hearings are usually scary affairs, during which intelligence-agency leaders run down all the dangers confronting the United States. This year’s January assessment was especially worrisome, because the minds of American citizens were listed as key battlegrounds for geopolitical conflict for the first time. “China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways,” wrote Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Coats went on to suggest that Russia’s 2016 election interference is only the beginning, with new tactics and deep fakes probably coming soon, and the bad guys learning from experience.
For years, studies have found that individuals come to faulty conclusions even when the facts are staring them in the face. “Availability bias” leads people to believe that a given future event is more likely if they can easily and vividly remember a past occurrence, which is why many Americans say they are more worried about dying in a shark attack than in a car crash, even though car crashes are about 60,000 times as likely.
In an information-warfare context, we need to understand not just why people are blind to the facts, but why they get duped into believing falsehoods. Two findings seem especially relevant.
The first is that humans are generally poor deception detectors. A meta-study examining hundreds of experiments found that humans are terrible at figuring out whether someone is lying based on verbal or nonverbal cues. In Hollywood, good-guy interrogators always seem to spot the shifty eye or subtle tell that gives away the bad guy. In reality, people detect deception only about 54 percent of the time, not much better than a coin toss.
The second finding is that older Americans are far more likely to share fake news online than are younger Americans. A study published in January found that Facebook users 65 and older shared nearly seven times as many fake-news articles as 18-to-29-year-olds—even when researchers controlled for other factors, such as education, party, ideology, and overall posting activity. One possible explanation for this age disparity is that older Facebook users just aren’t as media savvy as their grandkids. Another is that memory and cognitive function generally decline with age. It’s early days, and this is just one study. But if this research is right, it suggests that much of the hue and cry about Millennials is off the mark. Digital natives may be far more savvy than older and wiser adults when it comes to spotting and spreading fake news.
The landscape may seem bleak—we’re a deception-ready species, it seems—but I have come across a touch of good news. Even as trust in institutions—including governments, media, and universities—is declining, researchers have found that trust in people is increasing. Looked at one way, such trusting behavior makes us more vulnerable to deception. But trust isn’t a one-way virtue: It often leads to trustworthy behavior—the more we trust others, the more they earn our trust. This suggests that, over time, societies can become less deceitful. There’s hope out there.
This much is clear: It will be far easier to shore up our technical defenses against information warfare than to fix our psychological vulnerabilities.
For those fearful of thinking for themselves and inclined to believe myths and falsehoods - think evangelicals - the risk of being duped increase exponentially.  Yet, these people seemingly are the last to grasp that they have been played for fools. 

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Mike Pence Is Not a "Decent Guy"

Joe Biden has a knack for making verbal gaffes.  Last week he made a major gaffe when he called Mike Pence a "decent guy."  Pence is anything but a "decent guy" and has a long track record of viscous homophobia that has cost lives and fueled bigotry and hatred. Being familiar with Pence's record, better descriptions of him might include, cold, cruel, hypocrite, dangerous or, as actress/activist Cynthia Nixon noted, insidious.   In an op-ed Nixon demonstrates why Pence is not a "decent guy" and, in my view, should be shunned by truly decent people.  Anyone who cares about LGBT family members or friends or who supports freedom of religion for all, not just Christofascists, should view Pence with horror. Many conjecture that Pence and his long time allies among anti-gay hate groups may in fact be behind much of the Trump/Pence regime's war on LGBT rights.  Here are op-ed excerpts:

Speaking at a forum in Omaha on Thursday, Joe Biden called Vice President Pence “a decent guy.”
When a chorus of progressives and LGBTQ activists, including myself, pointed out that a man who has built his career on homophobia and misogyny cannot possibly be considered “decent,” some dismissed it as just outrage Twitter. While Biden later walked back his comments and acknowledged that “there is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights,” I think it’s important to explain why calling Pence “a decent guy” is an affront to the real meaning of the word.
While I like and admire much about Biden personally and politically, especially his championing of the Violence Against Women Act, when he talks about Pence being “a decent guy,” he is putting politeness over policy. In effect, he is saying that Pence’s record doesn’t matter. So let’s talk about that record. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed LGBTQ discrimination. He refused to lift a ban on needle exchange programs until a preventable HIV outbreak reached epidemic levels. On the website for his 2000 congressional campaign, Pence suggested support for so-called conversion therapy, which is associated with higher suicide risk for LGBTQ youth. During Pence’s tenure as head of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, it ran an article that suggested that women should have to be married to obtain birth control. He published an article urging businesses not to hire gay people, and his congressional website said that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service.”
Pence played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to ban transgender people from military service, and he serves in an administration that seeks to define transgender Americans out of existence by stripping federal recognition of their gender identity. This is a man whose abhorrence of queer people is so notorious that even President Trump reportedly once joked that Pence “wants to hang them all.” (The White House later denied it.)
Pence has also made it his mission to take down Planned Parenthood, leading the GOP’s war on one of the nation’s largest providers of reproductive and transgender health care.
These are not the actions of a decent man. The fact that Pence does vile, hateful things while well-coiffed and calm doesn’t make him decent; it makes him insidious and dangerous.
It’s easy to say nice things about Pence when you’re not personally threatened by his agenda. If Biden were being directly attacked in the same way that our community is, I think he would see Pence from a very different vantage point.
When politicians of a certain age reminisce about the “civility” that used to define Washington, it’s telling that the old guard conveniently forgets that this decorum has never been extended to all.
[T]he problem isn’t getting along with Republicans. The problem is legitimizing an agenda of hateful discrimination. It’s about the fear that someone who would give Pence the benefit of the doubt in the name of civility might also be willing to bargain away our rights in the name of bipartisanship.
There is a sense among genteel Washington that partisanship is rude and boorish. But when you’re fighting for the rights of marginalized communities who are under attack, it’s okay to stop being polite. This is not a time for hollow civility. This is a time to fight.
If Democrats are too wedded to the collegiality of the Senate dining room to call out the Republicans who espouse homophobia, how are we ever going to stop them?